It wasn’t until 2013 that India recognized sexual harassment at the workplace as a separate offense. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passed by the parliament on 23rd April 2013. Vishaka Guidelines by Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vishaka and others vs. State of Rajasthan and others became the foundation of this law. The Hon’ble Supreme Court said that there is a need to find out suitable methods for the realization of the true concept of gender equality and to prevent sexual harassment of working women in all workplaces through the judicial process, to fill the vacuum in existing legislation.
According to a NITI Aayog report published in 2018, around 24% of Indian women are in the workforce. Doubling this number to 48-50% can take the current GDP growth of 5-6% to 9-10%. It’s possible only if our workplaces are secure and safe for working women and there is no gender disparity. The POSH act aims towards the same.
The law came in the force on 9th December 2013, but has the situation really changed? Are our workplaces safe for women to work without feeling threatened? The answer still is a No. Instead, it has increased by several folds. The reason for this increase can also be due to more women joining the workforce and many are now speaking up against the harassment that they are facing sexual or otherwise.
Recently, on 5th May 2019, a senior captain of Air India was alleged of sexual harassment by a pilot. She filed a written complaint stating that she agreed to go for a dinner with the captain out of decency but the captain started asking her inappropriate questions about her sex life with her husband.
Feeling that his intentions were not good, the pilot left the restaurant only to be threatened by the captain later at the hotel whereby he tried to intimidate her by saying he will enter her room. The type of behaviour that the captain showed is really disturbing and completely unacceptable.
Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Is More Common Than You Think
The #MeToo movement brought up countless unreported sexual harassment cases. The movement not only targeted common people as the culprits but also several renowned personalities in the world of entertainment, politics and so on.
One of the biggest such cases evolved around minister of state for external affairs – M.J. Akbar. He later resigned after the allegations that were made against him by 16 women. These journalists reported that M.J. Akbar had harassed them sexually in the 80s and 90s. At that time, he was associated with a newspaper in New Delhi as the editor.
Another noticeable allegation was against Nana Patekar by the actress Tanushree Dutta. She stated that Patekar harassed her ten years ago on the sets of a movie she was then working on.
These incidents are just some of the cases that caught the media’s attention. The entire picture is way more ugly.
To understand the severity of the issue, a survey was carried out by the job portal Indeed and the data concluded that 87% of the women working in tech firms would resign from their job if faced with any incident of sexual harassment. No matter the sample size, 87% is still a huge number in the context.
Are You Aware of What Sexual Harassment Involves?
Sexual harassment is not just touching someone, it involves several other acts. Most women are not aware of the fact that they are being sexually harassed, taking action against such acts seems out of the picture. Sexual harassment includes a whole lot of things that make women feel uncomfortable or humiliate them. Sexual Harassment includes the following–
- Any type of physical advances or contacts
- Misogynist or sexist remarks
- Asking for sexual favours
- Any undesirable non-verbal, verbal or physical conduct involving sexual acts
- Showing someone pornography forcefully
Apart from the above-mentioned acts, a few more are also included which are applicable specifically for the workplace. These are –
- Promising or implying that the person will receive some sort of preference in her employment status
- Promising or implying that the person will receive some sort of detrimental treatment in her employment status
- Giving a threat to someone regarding their employment status
- Humiliating to the point that the person’s safety is compromised or the person falls ill
- Creating an unsafe or offensive workplace environment for someone deliberately
Do You Think Your Workplace is Secure for Women?
Ensuring gender-equality in the workplace is very important to instate the safety of women. Moreover, you must have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. You need to make some changes and emphasize certain things to ensure the safety of women at your office.
The POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) law came into existence to prevent women from falling into the clutches of sexual harassment at their workplace and also to ensure proper redressal of their complaints. It helps to bring about a gender-neutral work environment.
The gender-neutral work environment is a basic requirement for any professional organization. Under the POSH act, the organizations are educated and informed on the guidelines they need to follow in order to make the working women safe. The act makes it mandatory to conduct PoSH training at the workplace.
What is POSH training?
PoSH training helps the employees to understand the legal framework that is applicable to workplaces. It also sensitizes the managers to maintain a safe and gender-neutral environment and also teaches the Internal Committee of the office how to resolve and handle the complaints.
What are the penalties under this law?
- If the manager does not abide by the law or breaches it or does not constitute an Internal Committee, then the manager shall have to pay Rs 50,000.
- If an employer repeats his act of sexual harassment after having done something similar in the past, the twice the punishment shall be imposed.
- Some of the extended forms of punishment also included the cancellation of license or registration.
What is an Internal Committee (IC)?
Every company with 10 or more employees must constitute an Internal Committee (IC) to investigate and take action related to sexual harassment at the workplace. According to the Law, 50% of the members of an IC should be women. Moreover, four members of the following qualities are mandatory –
- A woman from among the employees who is at a senior level will be the Presiding Officer.
- Two members selected from among the employees who have had some past experience towards the welfare of women or have an inclination to work towards the cause of women.
- One external member from any of the NGOs and has experience working in sexual harassment cases.
Take Immediate Action against Sexual Harassment
Times are definitely changing and women are now more aware of their rights. But the path towards a completely gender-neutral work environment is not a bed of roses. There is still work to be done and it cannot be accomplished if women don’t come up with their complaints. Don’t blame yourself for those co-workers or managers who have misbehaved or harassed you. You need to bring your complaints to a responsible body.
Making anyone feel uncomfortable or performing unwelcoming gestures should never be acceptable.